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Nobody knows what to say

I’m just so worried that I won’t know what to say.  Whether they are homesick, in a fight, worried about their parent, or whatever, I’m concerned that I won’t know what to say in a moment that they need me.  What’s your best advice for what I should say?


I have a few ideas about this.  First of all, I want you to understand that nobody knows what to say.  When campers (or anyone) are having strong feelings or reactions to something it is impossible to really know or understand their situation.  Even if it is something that you have experience with (like being homesick) you don’t really know what is going on for them.  Keeping that in perspective, I think it takes the pressure off having to say the “right” thing.  What you automatically have going for you, and maybe the biggest reason why the camper is talking to you and expressing their true feelings, is that you are physically present.  You are there and you are listening.  Be there.  Stay connected to the moment with the camper.  That will help you react appropriately.  Most kids (and adults) want their feelings acknowledged first and foremost.  Saying something like, “that sounds really tough” validates their feelings as real and important and relieves them of the pressure of problem solving.  When we fumble around with statements like, “what do you think would make you feel better” it forces the same pressure that you are describing back onto the kid.

If I were to give you a formula or a step-by-step approach to these emotionally intense moments, it would go something like this:

  1. Be there, be mindful of distractions, and listen carefully and without judgment
  2. Acknowledge their feelings and experience
  3. Be ok with silence
  4. Thank them or express pride in their decision to tell you something hard
  5. Tell them you are always available to talk more


Scott “Funsize” Arizala

Camp Director for Camp Kesem, Vice President of Summer Programming for Dragonfly Forest, Summer Camp Consultant & Trainer, and award-winning author of S’more Than Camp.  For more information please visit www.TheCampCounselor.com